Being British, I love a good curry. Perhaps even more than I love roast beef, fish and chips, scones and afternoon tea. By curry, of course, I don’t refer to the Japanese variety (delicious as it is). For years it seemed that decent curries were scarce in Tokyo – at the time I’d not yet been introduced to Hiroo’s Priya – so much so that I gave up the quest. In recent years, however, something of a curry boom has taken place, with Napali (why do I always want to say “Nepalese’?) restaurants in particular springing up all over the place.
On the stretch of Meiji Dori that constitutes my morning stroll to the office there are three or four decent looking Napali establishments alone. The Jua Hai! Nepali Kitchen has long caught my attention, as the open window into the kitchen seemed to indicate the proprietors are both proud of their cooking and confident about the standard of hygiene in the kitchen. The bright façade, and casual look to the place also invited. As such, a recent lunchtime visit was inevitable. I can report, happily, that my expectations were not disappointed.
The welcome received from the rather handsome middle-aged Nepali lady – her accented, lilting Japanese is so charming – is warm, and the interior sufficiently “ethnic.” Simple décor, some hanging rug-type decorations and cute lighting. On the day of my visit the place was packed. Mostly office workers and a few tired looking chain-smoking OLs. All around incredibly delicious looking food was being eagerly consumed. So far so good.
The lunch set menu, ¥1,000 for curry, rice, naan and a drink (tea, coffee, juice, laci etc.), offered up a selection of eight or nine curries. My dining partners opted for a chicken and spinach curry respectively, while I – feeling adventurous – decided on the chicken muglai. We all had naan instead of rice, as those being served all around looked fantastic. Not only gigantic (at least 14 inches in length), but light, fluffy and not at all oily.
Waiting for our orders to arrive, a further glance over the menu revealed that both the rice and naan are tabehodai. All you can eat! For ¥1,000! It seemed too good to be true, but sure enough we were able to greedily attempt the challenge of consuming two of the naan and the generous serving of curry, before declining an invitation to finish off with rice. The naan proved to be just as good, if not better, than they looked, and subsequent helping came sliced up with scissors, in order, I suppose, to limit wastage by those with eyes bigger than their bellies.
But what of the curry? Pretty good actually. Certainly a worthy partner to the naan. It tasted fresh, looked “clean” and contained generous pieces of succulent chicken thankfully devoid of gristly bits. All three curries were pleasantly spicy, yet without going for overkill in the heat department – a sure sign that the flavour is being focused on. In all honesty I ended up regretting my choosing the muglai, tasty as it was, as the odd looking straggly bits of semi-poached egg throughout it were not particularly attractive, and also added a somewhat displeasing texture to an otherwise smooth curry. The spinach curry looked wonderful, and according to my dining partner my eyes did not deceive me.
The service was friendly, swift and willing. At regular intervals the lady of the house breezed by our table to offer more naan, rice and drink. Nice to have the tabehodai function readily promoted. The atmosphere was relaxed, lively and a little smokey, but that had more to do with the chain smokers on the neighbouring table than any lack of ventilation.
The evening menu looks promising, with dozens of tasty looking dishes available. A delivery service is also available for orders over ¥2,000. Party courses are also offered; ¥2,500 for nine courses, and ¥3,500 for eleven. An all you can drink option costs an additional ¥2,000 for two hours of boozing.
Verdict? Great. Wonderful, freshly cooked curry served with a strangely disarming smile. The naan alone are worth the money. Definitely a great choice for lunch, and certainly deserving of a dinnertime visit.
Update 29/04/10: An evening visit proved to be well worth the effort. Despite the place being dead (the Monday before payday, before Golden Week, so to be expected), the atmosphere was still cozy. Service remained excellent, and was always provided with a smile. I was happy to discover that bottled Kirin beer is very reasonably priced at ¥550.
The menu offered a plentiful array of delicious sounding dishes. However, having already regretted choosing the muglai over the saag, I this time opted for the saag chicken and a garlic naan, while my dining partner decided on saag lamb supported by a sesame naan. Couldn't find any pilau rice, so the plain rice we eventually had was just the normal, sticky white Japanese variety. Nothing wrong with it, but I always feel it does not go well with curry.
Again, everything was freshly prepared and cooked. Tastes were wonderful. Both saags had a smooth, creamy texture. Almost a buttery taste in there too. If I had to find faults, then perhaps a little more texture from the spinach, and the need for the dishes to be served hot, rather than warm, would be my only criticism.
The naan where from heaven. Fresh, shiny (but not oily), light and fluffy, and easily over twenty inches in length! The garlic variant was truly awesome. Smothered in green, freshly grated garlic. I must have reeked afterwards, but it was worth it. My dinning partner's sesame naan was also fantastic, although I did find the taste a little over powering after a while.
In all, an excellent meal. Thanks to the splendidly generous portions, the rice was probably an unnecessary order, especially with so much naan goodness to mop up the curry with. Two diners stuffed with beer and curry for around ¥5,000. Love it.
Update 17/5/11: Worst fears have been confirmed. Following the quake Jau Hai! shut down, then became busy with what - correctly - seemed to be a refit. Sadly the refit involves a complete re-imagining of the business. The proprietors appear to be the same, but the shop is reopening as "Meiji Dori Wine Bar & Dining." Go figure.